Forming habits gradually in a society that loves to binge
Mar 25, 2015 • Megan Jones, Psy.D and Whitney Akers
Be honest–are you tempted by the idea of Amazon’s same-day delivery service? Do you get frustrated when Google Chrome takes more than a few seconds to load a webpage? Have you discovered a new TV show and gotten giddy because there were multiple episodes available to plow through? Considering 88 percent of Netflix users report streaming three or more episodes of the same TV show in one day, you aren’t alone. We live in a must-have-it-now culture of instant gratification and binge consumption.We’re also more distracted than ever–the average consumer only has an attention span of eight seconds–and people are becoming increasingly stressed because of multi-tasking. Darrell Worthy, an assistant professor of psychology at Texas A&M University who studies decision making and motivation, said in an Los Angeles Times interview, “A lot of things that are really valuable take time. But immediate gratification is the default response. It’s difficult to overcome those urges and be patient and wait for things to come over time.” But you can change your habits, foster creative thinking,experience more happiness in life, and boost your effective problem solving skills by embracing mindfulness and learning other Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) techniques in small doses over time.
If you’ve been feeling anxious, stressed, frustrated about being stuck in a rut, or unhappy about your body–you want it to stop. You want to feel like your best self again. Right. Now.
But diet fads, quick fitness fixes and articles on how to feel happier immediately don’t work because they’re not helping you drive real change. These overnight fixes actually lead to more frustration because when you’re not able to achieve quick, unrealistic results, you’re sent back into the cycle of critical thoughts and negative behaviors that made you seek a “right-now” solution in the first place. For example–someone binges, feels guilty about the amount of food they’ve eaten, goes on a crash diet to feel better, but then can’t sustain the diet–so they binge eat again.Learning how to respond to stressful situations will have the best chance of helping you in the moment if you practice over time–gradually turning your knowledge into a habit. In fact, two of the core principles of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) are an emphasis on homework and maintaining progress, which are proven to improve results. By learning CBT techniques to gradually shape-up habits, you’ll reduce your stress and anxiety, and the payoff will be much greater than a quick fix. Here’s why a gradual practice is so important when you’re building your emotional strength:
You’ll build self-confidence
Setting small, achievable goals leads to several small successes, which are really important for building your confidence. By hitting these realistic, small goals, you’ll actually propel yourself forward with feelings of accomplishment from each win. Repeated success will also prove to you that reaching your long-term goal is possible, and make you feel more effective. Don’t we all love having an “I got this” attitude once in a while? The more you succeed at something, the longer your brain stores information that allows you to win, which is why to get a new habit to stick, it’s critical to be repetitive. After you achieve a small goal, reward yourself with a little something to reinforce the habit–like a trip to the movies or a long bath.
You’ll perform well under pressure
When your brain is under the influence of strong emotions, it’s harder to think rationally and do something new. That causes you to fall back on old habits–the very thought patterns and behaviors you’re trying to overcome. Practicing a new coping skill or healthy habit over and over again while you’re thriving means you’ll be much more likely to stick to it when you’re feeling anxious, depressed, stressed, or angry.Practicing new techniques several times also lets you apply your new skills to multiple different situations that arise in everyday life. Next time you’re upset or anxious, your new healthy habit will be second nature.
You’ll continue improving, exercising your mind
Here’s the other not-so-secret problem with quick health fixes: they don’t help you in the long run. And in life, you’re playing the long game. Coping with anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues (and physical issues for that matter) isn’t only about building emotional strength–it’s about maintaining it. By regularly practicing skills, you continue improving your emotional resilience and also keep your mind in shape for whatever life may throw at you in the future. Setbacks happen, but by continuing to do your homework, you make a relapse less likely. CBT researchers have found that people that do their emotional homework have considerably better outcomes than those who don’t, making it pretty clear that learning how to apply new knowledge is just as important as learning the theories themselves.
You’ll enjoy a ton of other mind and mood-boosting benefits